Fleeting: Việt Nam’s Heroines – The Trưng sisters, Phùng Thị Chính and Lady Triệu

It is rather embarrassing when one’s beau knows more about your heritage’s past and history more than you do… particularly if this beau happens to be not of the culture. This happened to be the case with my current beau over the past few months.

One of the things that isn’t all that known in Vietnamese history (or Asian history for that matter) is the number of women that stood up against the Chinese oppressors of Việt Nam. Keep in mind that Việt Nam was under Chinese control for over one thousand years during which the Vietnamese people essentially lost much of their national identity, writing system and language.

Everyone knows of Joan of Arc or Elizabeth I, but when one thinks of Asia they automatically look at Mulan (thanks Disney) which is great and all… but there are others, though some questionably and some with a lot of blood on their hands.

Two of the more prominent heroines were the Trưng sisters and Lady Triệu.

The Trưng sisters and Phùng Thị Chính
Of the two the Trưng sisters (Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị) were more successful in their attempt to drive the Chinese out of their homeland. Though short lived, the Trưng sisters led the Vietnamese from 39 A.D. to 43 A.D.

Legend says that the Trưng sisters descended from a military family and as thus were well versed in the martial arts and other fighting skills. Eventually Trưng Trắc married Thi Sách and had a short lived happy married life. When the Chinese oppressors continued to tighten their hold over the Vietnamese people Thi Sách took a stand against them and was executed by the Chinese as an example for others desiring to rebel. Unfortunately this only served to ignite the fire within his wife, Trưng Trắc, and she and her sister took up arms and an army of women and moved to fight off the Chinese bit by bit off their homeland.

By 39 A.D. the Trưng sisters were able to free Việt Nam and led the people whilst still fighting off additional Chinese attacks with predominately female armies for the following three years. What eventually stopped them? According to legend, in 42 A.D. it took a massive Chinese army comprised of male soldiers that were in the nude to defeat the Vietnamese female army.

This brazen act so ashamed the Vietnamese female army that many fled from battle… it was during this battle that one of the female soldiers took up arms and fought against the Chinese army: Phùng Thị Chính. Phùng Thị Chính was a pregnant noble lady warrior that fought bravely against the Chinese… and as legend would have it: gave birth on the battlefield and continued to fight against the Chinese while holding her newborn baby in one arm. She was in charge of protecting the central flank of Việt Nam.

When rumors went through the camp that the Trưng sisters have died Phùng Thị Chính opted to not only kill herself, but her newborn baby as well… as opposed to surrender to Chinese rule.

Information about the Trưng sisters or even about Phùng Thị Chính is very sparse, but what I have been able to find online includes:
4000-year history of Vietnam: The articles on the Vietnamese national history (in Vietnamese)
Nguyen Thai Hoc Foundation
Freedom for Vietnam

It would be two centuries until another major rebellion that would cause the Chinese pause… and this was led by Triệu Thị Trinh aka Lady Triệu in approximately 248 A.D. One quote that she was know to have said was:

I’d like to ride storms, kill sharks in the open sea, drive out the aggressors, reconquer the country, undo the ties of serfdom, and never bend my back to be the concubine of whatever man.

Even less is known of Lady Triệu… what little that is online:
To Quoc Viet Nam
Freedom for Vietnam

If there is something I have learned from falling down the above series of rabbit holes… it is that Việt Nam, prior to the first occupation by China, was largely a matriarchal society. A far cry from the predominantly patriarchal societies we see today. Take it a step further and it would appear that a lot of those ancient societal beliefs are still prevalent in today’s society. Interesting considering how even a lot of third world countries (America included) women are constantly fighting for equality in the workplace… and yet there are in fact matriarchal societies that existed and even prospered in the past.

Curious indeed.